I grew up in the latter-half of the twentieth century on a farm in rural Virginia. My grandfather was a former West Virginia coalminer and my granny was the stereotypical mountain woman; she had a cure for everything, could curse as bad as any sailor, pray as hard as any reverend and cook better than any one human I had ever met.
Barely five-foot-three, she wasn’t a towering woman, in fact, as I recall, her feet would barely reach the cement floor of her front porch on summer afternoons. There on that porch, she would rest on her swing after putting clothes on the line or before she began preparing supper for the men folk who were busily working “up the holler”.
It was during these blissful summer afternoons that she and I would bond, sharing moments I would come to cherish for a lifetime — seated side by side on that front porch swing, looking down the long gravel road that winded from our farm to the nearest county road, F0145.
As we were seated, she would inevitably reach into her pocket and pull out her leather cigarette case and slowly unsnap the two buttons at the top, then very methodically pull out a filterless Lucky Strikes cigarette. Imitating her every move, I too would pull out my hand-me-down cigarette case and unsnap the top buttons and slowly pull out my box, which to the unassuming eye closely resembled her box of Lucky Strikes cigarettes.
While she was lighting the paper and tobacco of her real cigarette, I would be pretending to the same to the white stick I pulled from my box — though the end of mine was already made red to resemble having been lit, by the factory’s food coloring dye.
Over the next five minutes, the two of us would sit alongside each other relaxing, as the gentle breeze would carry the smoke of her cigarettes wherever it desired — if the bugs were especially bad that day, she would kindly blow her smoke in my direction or hold her cigarette near me in order to ward off the gnats and ‘skeeters’… my, my, my, how things have changed!
After she was done with her cigarette, she’d mash it out against the wooden swing, then casually flick it into the front yard — I’d do the same thing.
Unlike her, however, I did not have a real cigarette, mine was a candy cigarette, manufactured to resemble the real thing, so that children could share in the remarkable smoking experience with their parents and grandparents.
As I recall, these candy cigarettes could be found just about anywhere real cigarettes could be found, except in cigarette vending machines!
Made of confectionary sugar, if my memory serves me correctly, they tasted like chalk and by the time she had thrown hers into the yard, I was ready to do the same thing. Still, it didn’t matter, I was like the grownups and few feelings in a six-year-old’s life are comparable to the exhilaration of ripping the plastic from a new box of candy cigarettes.
These days, just like real cigarettes, candy cigarettes have quickly fallen out of favor and are now all but a thing of the past — though the items are still being manufactured, the red tips have been removed and they’re now called “candy sticks”.
Yes, the products were conditioning an entire generation to follow in their parents footsteps of unhealthy choices, but I have to say that I for one miss the peace and tranquility found back when I could sit alongside Granny on her front porch and smoke a candy cigarette!
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